Serbia has enough potential to cover energy demand with renewables only, including solar, wind, biomass, organic waste, hydropower, and geothermal. The main obstacles to 100% renewable electricity worldwide are the business interests of coal, oil, gas, and nuclear, says Energy Watch Group (EWG) President Hans-Josef Fell, author of the 2000 German Renewable Energy Sources Act (EEG), the foundation for technology developments in the renewable energy sector in Germany.
In an interview with Balkan Green Energy News, he also discussed coal phase-out in Germany and Serbia, how to combine feed-in tariffs and auctions, and what destroyed EU leadership in renewables and climate protection.
You authored the draft Renewable Energy Sources Act (EEG) in 2000, which had an enormous effect in Germany and throughout the world. What is the secret of its success?
The EEG gave to all investors the possibility to invest in all renewables in the electricity sector in an economic way. This stimulated investment by a million new energy investors: private people, farmers, small and medium companies, cooperatives. And so the energy business switched from monopolists to the whole society. All people can earn money with renewable energy and avoid big energy bills through self-production and consumption. Therefore, the EEG helped fight poverty and bring income to a million people. The feed-in tariff, high enough for economic investment and a privileged grid access is the main regulation that stimulated this enormous investment. The German renewable electricity share grew from 6% in 2000 to 40% in mid-2018.
German Renewable Energy Sources Act helped fight poverty and bring income to a million people
Is the increase in retail prices something which was expected, and was this the “price” that had to be paid for a cleaner environment?
A small increase in retail prices was expected and accepted by most people, as shown in many polls. But the EEG amendments in 2009 led to much higher prices because many companies where exempted from the EEG surcharge, without any need for it, while a very complicated mechanism in the law also stimulated an EEG surcharge price. Both are faults of political decisions and are not due to great investment in renewables. One thing is clear: the average electricity price for all consumers in Germany declined because renewable energy generation increased. Only the retail price increased, but only due to wrong political decisions.
Retail price increased, but only due to wrong political decisions
Around 70% of electricity in Serbia is generated from coal. Germany is at 40%. Germany has set up a coal commission that should define a solution for the coal phase-out. What would your proposal be? What would you advise Serbia to do?
The German coal commission will find socially acceptable ways to phase out coal completely. The reasons are clear: coal causes significant air pollution, emits unacceptably high levels of greenhouse gases (GHG), and destroys landscapes with lignite mining. The switch to renewables will bring more jobs than will be lost in coal mining. This means that the only task at hand is to bring new jobs to the coal mining areas.
The switch to renewables will bring more jobs than will be lost in coal mining
My advice for Serbia is the same: Stop air pollution and GHG emissions in Serbia, by switching to 100% renewables. This is also the best economic way for Serbia, because energy production from 100% renewables, combined with storage systems to balance the fluctuations of wind and solar, is now cheaper than energy from coal, oil, gas, and nuclear.
Some say that Serbia does not have enough renewable energy sources to secure domestic consumption and that coal phase-out will make the country an electricity importer?
Serbia, as all nations in the world, has plenty potential to cover the entire energy demand with renewables only. Serbia has plenty of solar radiation, in some places enough wind potential, Serbia has biomass and organic waste resources, Serbia has hydropower and geothermal potential. All together, that’s enough. But Serbia does not have enough oil, natural gas and uranium resources to cover own energy demand. Does Serbia stop the use of these because of very limited resources? Clearly not yet. So you see this is not a fair argument. The EWG can create a plan for Serbia to cover its future energy demand completely with 100% domestic renewable resources.
Serbia has plenty potential to cover the entire energy demand with renewables only
You have said that 100% Renewable Electricity Worldwide is feasible. How far are we from that goal? What are the main obstacles?
More than 50 nations in the world have the target of 100% renewables. Some of them are close to reaching this goal, like Costa Rica, Uruguay, New Zealand, Iceland, Sweden, and Denmark. California, Hawaii have best policy to come to 100% renewables. We are seeing tremendous growth in China, India, Chile and plenty other places. But we have also plenty places in the world where renewables are not supported enough, like Russia, Central Asia, the Balkans. The main obstacles are the business interests of coal, oil, gas, nuclear. They lobby politicians hard, even with corruption, hindering the best policy for renewables.
Fossil fuels industry lobby politicians hard, even with corruption, hindering the best policy for renewables
The existing regulatory model for renewables in Serbia includes quotas and feed-in tariffs. There are non-binding recommendations (from the Energy Community) to move to market-based models, such as auctions and feed-in premiums. Also, there are opinions that due to the non-market price of electricity for households and small-scale consumers in Serbia, as well as the insufficiently developed sector of renewable energy sources, it would not be good to switch to auctions. What is the right time to abort feed-in tariffs?
The switch to auctions in Germany, Great Britain and many other countries have dramatically reduced the decentralized investment. Private people, cooperatives, farmers, S&M cannot take part in auctioning. There is no question, we need big utility-scale investment in renewables, such as Gigawatt Solar and Wind Farms. But equally important is the decentralized investment by a million people. Therefore, the best legislative direction would be to organize auctioning for capacities of over 40 MW and have the feed-in tariff in place without any quotas in all renewable sectors for investment in capacities under 40 MW.
Organize auctioning for capacities of over 40 MW and have the feed-in tariff in place without any quotas for capacities under 40 MW
When Serbia implements such legislation, you will see a lot of investment in renewables in the following year and beyond. Air pollution will be reduced, Serbia will make an important contribution to meeting the Paris Agreement climate goals and your economy will receive a boost, with many new jobs to be created for everyone, not only for monopolists.
The existing regulatory framework for RES in Serbia expires on December 31, and there is no official announcement as to what follows. Is this going to help the development of renewable energy sources?
I do not know the details of the upcoming regulatory framework. But I fear it will, like in the past, help protect the business of the fossil and nuclear industry and hinder a fast exponential growth of clean renewables. Should the Serbian Government be interested in going an economic way to 100% renewables, the Energy Watch Group (EWG) would be able to create a plan for Serbia, including political recommendations.
When there is no political will to come to renewables investment, then there is no path to find the right political regulations.
Big influence of the fossil and nuclear industry in the EU destroyed ist leadership in renewables and climate protection
Is the EU pace (regulatory and in reality) good enough to secure the fulfillment of the Paris Agreement obligations?
No. The EU’s targets for renewables and GHG reduction are far too low. Also, the political recommendation from the EU to increase renewable investment is inadequate. The EU was the world leader in renewables and climate protection until 2010, with many and successful feed-in tariff laws in many EU member states. But the switch to auctioning hinders the fast renewables growth in most EU nations, except Sweden, Denmark. The big influence of the fossil and nuclear industry in the EU destroyed this leadership. Now the EU is far behind nations like China, India, many US states and Latin America.